ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — French President Francois Hollande said Friday he will wait for the U.N. inspectors’ report on their investigation of a chemical weapons attack in Syria before deciding whether to intervene militarily.
That means even further delay in potential international armed action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military. France and the United States are preparing possible strikes, saying they have convincing evidence that Assad’s regime launched the Aug. 21 attack.
France, which firmly backs the Syrian rebels and has strategic and historic interest in the region, had been ready to act last week but held off when President Barack Obama declared he would consult Congress first.
Hollande told reporters at a Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Friday: “Yes, we will wait for the inspectors’ report, as we will wait for the Congress vote.”
It was the first time Hollande said he would wait for the U.N. report.
A French diplomatic official noted that his announcement came after discussions at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders, suggesting that those discussions persuaded Hollande to wait. The official was not authorized to be publicly named according to presidential policy.
Hollande’s announcement appeared to catch French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius off guard. Earlier Friday, he told EU foreign ministers meeting in Lithuania that there was no need to await the U.N. report because it would simply confirm what was already known — that the chemical weapons attack had occurred — but would not say who was responsible.
AP correspondent Raf Casert contributed from Vilnius, Lithuania.